Cox Communications has pledged $60 million over the next year as part of an initiative aimed at closing a "digital learning gap" that has widened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced school closings and caused millions of students to work remotely.
Tied in, Cox launched a new program, called the Cox CARES Act Solutions for Education, to help school districts implement virtual learning during the pandemic. That program ties into the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides funds to school districts for purchasing tech needed to support online learning for K-12 students.
The pandemic has amplified the importance of ensuring that students have access to solid broadband connectivity, Pat Esser, Cox's president and CEO, said Tuesday during an online press event.
"It's not just about getting homework done anymore. It's about giving our kids the ability to show up and participate," Esser said. "Today, being present often means you need an in-home Internet connection to access online education."
Cox, like other ISPs, has seen a spike in residential network usage during the pandemic. Esser estimates that Cox has seen two years' worth of traffic growth on its network in just the last five months.
The Cox CARES Act Solutions for Education program comprises several elements:
- Cox2Compete, Cox's Internet program for low-income families with K-12 students participating in a government-assisted program. Eligible participants signing up before year's end are in line to receive two months of free service and to pay $9.95 per month going forward.
- Cox CARES Act offers two speed tiers: CARES Starter Internet (25 Mbit/s down by 3 Mbit/s up) at $30 per month, and CARES Essential Internet (50 Mbit/s down by 3 Mbit/s up) for $40 per month.
- Cox Business Managed Wi-Fi for educational systems. Pricing varies but typically costs $60 a month per access point, the operator said.
Cox's new initiative enters the picture following the launch of a broader cable industry effort, called K-12 Bridge to Broadband, designed to help connect students to broadband for remote and hybrid learning in partnership with national non-profit EducationSuperHighway (ESH). That program includes a framework from US cable service providers built in part on recent school district partnerships established in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
"COVID has forced an unprecedented amount of societal activity that has to take place in our homes over the Internet as a lifeline," Michael Powell, CEO of the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, said at the same presser. "But none is so important as the daunting challenge of educating our children online and outside the school … Taking class online is not ideal, but it is a critical and indispensable part of the public health effort to get the disease under control."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading